Thursday, November 14, 2013

'Wicked' Still Defies Gravity as It Continues to Enchant -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Oriental Theater, Chicago
Thru December 21

This was the 7th time I've seen Wicked, but the first in 5 years (all the others were within the first 5 years of the show's existence, from 2003-2008).

My strongest recollection is still of the first time I saw the show, on Broadway with original cast members Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Norbert Leo Butz and Joel Grey, but I loved it each time I saw it during its long, "sit down" Chicago run.

And though it's now been long enough not to remember how specifics compare, in terms of vocal timbres or production values, I still find Wicked to be an outstanding show.

It isn't my favorite musical of the 21st century--The Producers, Hairspray and the show that beat it out for the 2004 Tony, Avenue Q, outrank it--and the touring production once again filling the Oriental Theatre wasn't quite pristine.

Although I was thrilled to walk up to the box office at 6:30 and be sold an $82 ticket for just $40--Row N of the Orchestra, Center--the sound seemed a little soft. Unless amplified differently to my usual balcony perch, I imagined having a tough time adequately hearing the singing if I had sat up there.

Photo credits: Joan Marcus
But despite lacking a bit of the visceral power and punch I expected from such a close vantage point, Wicked nonetheless once again satisfied in all ways that matter.

The leads--Broadway vet Jenn Gambatese as Glinda, youthful Alison Luff as Elphaba--were well-paired and well-sung. 

The other key roles were all well-handled by an Equity cast, and those of us old enough to recall John Davidson from his TV days got a kick out of seeing him playing the Wizard. (I even dropped money into a bucket Davidson held post-show for Equity Cares/Broadway Fights AIDS.)

Even without much exposure over the past 5 years, Stephen Schwartz' tuneful score remains a delight, with a great mix of the wistful--"The Wizard and I," "I'm Not That Girl," "For Good"--and the ebullient and/or impassioned--"Popular," "Thank Goodness," "One Short Day," "Defying Gravity."

In Chicago for just another month--it seems it could stay much longer based on demand--Wicked is selling quite well, so tickets may be tough and/or pricey (though it never hurts to ask for ad hoc discounts at the box office like I did).

But it remains one of the best touring musicals you can see--its success helps it employ a top-notch Equity cast--and if you've never seen it (or even if you have) you really should.

To borrow a lyric from another wonderful musical, seeing Wicked--as evidenced by the standing ovation at the end--should, 10 years after its Broadway bow, make for some enchanted evening.

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